Report raises concerns over scoliosis treatment

A child whose ribs had to be cut back to allow surgeons work on a section of her spine and another young girl who had indigestion because spinal curvature caused her windpipe to bend are among the appalling scenarios outlined by children in a report on waiting times for scoliosis treatment.

The report’s author, Children’s Ombudsman Niall Muldoon, said it raises “huge concerns about the serious and ongoing violations of the rights of children waiting for scoliosis treatment”.

Dr Muldoon said he had two main objectives in publishing the report, Waiting for Scoliosis Treatment: A Children’s Rights Issue. They were:

  • To highlight that waiting lists for paediatric spinal surgery have been and continue to be an issue of concern to children, directly affecting their lives and the enjoyment of their rights;
  • To raise awareness of the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applicable in this context.

Mr Muldoon said that as a party to the convention, the Irish State “must recognise the right of the child to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of health and to facilities for the treatment of illness and rehabilitation of health”.

He said Article 42A.1, a section inserted into the Constitution following the children’s referendum in 2012, recognises the child as a holder of rights but that it would have little meaning “unless we begin, as a society, to make children’s rights real”.

“To do this we must take immediate steps towards the full realisation of children’s rights, and we must hold the State to account, where appropriate, to ensure those rights are vindicated.”

Mr Muldoon made a number of recommendations in his report, including that:

  • No child with scoliosis should have to wait in excess of four months from when the need for surgery is clinically determined;
  • Child-specific waiting lists be published for all healthcare services in Ireland;
  • Targets for maximum waiting times for outpatient appointments be established, and reports which monitor these targets are published quarterly.

Dr Aoife Daly, senior law lecturer at the University of Liverpool who spoke at the report launch, said international human rights obligations ”mean that the State must take into account children’s best interests as a primary consideration when weighing up competing budget allocation and spending priorities”.

Mr Muldoon said his office had received complaints from parents of children with scoliosis since 2009 and that the 15-18-month target of the HSE and the Department of Health in relation to waiting times for paediatric spinal surgeries was a matter of concern.

Responding to the report’s findings, Health Minister Simon Harris said he welcomed a commitment from the HSE “that no child will wait longer than four months for such a procedure by the end of the year”.

He said a range of measures will be used to get to this target, including additional theatre capacity in Crumlin Children’s Hospital from April.

Analysis: 11

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